The Art of Knowing Your Own Path

We’ve all heard that each person has their own path in life.  Their own choices.  Makes their own way.  It’s all too easy though, to look at someone else who seems healthier, wealthier, has more things, or what looks like a great life, and wonder how it is that our life just doesn’t look as good.  It’s so easy to say, “Wow, so-and-so has so much more [fill in the blank] than I do.  How is that fair?  Where did I go wrong?  Why is my life so hard?”

I am more dedicated than I’ve ever been to just “not go there.”  I roll pretty well with how life happens.  But even I will get caught up in a pity party now and then thinking that I’m getting the raw end of the deal.

Part of why life is hard, is how we look at it.  Plainly and simply, our attitude is what determines our happiness – even our success.  Yep, it really isn’t how messed up our childhood was or our genetic code or a dozen other excuses.  Life is what we make it.

Moping and pouting doesn’t help, whining and gnashing of teeth doesn’t help.  And most certainly distressing yourself over “why me” (or in some cases, “why not me?”) is a pattern designed for doom.

Comparing your own life to someone else’s can only be a disaster.  Here are some reasons why:  No two people are alike.  Not wired the same way, haven’t had the same experiences, don’t have the same values, the same support people, the same personalities, the same resources, intelligence, or capacity.  Ultimately what that means is they don’t have the same tools as you do to perceive a situation, and they don’t have the same tools to cope with it.

The people could be best friends, siblings, cousins, coworkers, or whatever demographic group you’d care to choose and you still….  can’t….  compare!

As soon as there are more personalities added, like a spouse or kids, a boss, a mother-in-law, the likelihood of Comparison Disaster increases exponentially.  The comparison goes farther and farther afield with each person added to the mix.  In most cases, your head is giving you a grass-is-greener scenario and your heart is working you up into a proverbial lather based on a whole bucket of assumptions and some unbalanced entitlement.

Another reason comparing your life to another’s is a bad idea?  You don’t know their real story.  Things may look fine on the outside.  They may be sick or struggling, could have been a victim of some kind of abuse, or have other baggage and challenges you know nothing about.  Maybe they have money, but are stuck in a horrible marriage.  Maybe they’re held together by prescription pills.  They might have a shopping addiction or 23 cats.  Behind the scenes, maybe they’re on the edge of foreclosure, homelessness, losing their job, or losing a family member.

Sure, the thoughts flow through our minds even when we don’t look for them — Oh look, the neighbor has a new car (My car is looking a little shabby).  Stan got a great promotion (How did I get passed over?).  Our friends went out to that fancy restaurant again?  (We can’t afford to do that.)  But you can’t know their whole story.  How could you compare your situation to theirs?

Even more dangerous is comparing yourself with family members:  the sibling’s new house or what their kids do versus what your kids do.  Spouses.  Grandkids.  Siblings.  A sure way to make yourself miserable is to pine away over another’s accomplishments or victories and wonder “Why couldn’t my child/ grandchild/ spouse be like that?”  To do so, you deny a person their own success.  You deny their right to their own life path, their own choices, and their own successes which lie inside their framework, not yours.

By finding a family member lacking, you overlook their strengths.  So what if they aren’t rivaling their cousin?  Who really cares if they allow their dog on their couch?  Stop comparing.  It’s really kind of judgmental.

So kick back, take a deep breath, and focus on acceptance, on contentment.  Focus on competing with yourself, and no one else.  Be joyful for another’s happiness and deny that green-eyed monster who whispers discontent in your ear and in your heart.  For your path is as much your own as someone else’s path is for them.  You aren’t missing out, your path just looks different.  Foster happiness in yourself, and share it with others.  Happiness promotes happiness, and the world is in sore need of more.  You will thank yourself later.


(c) 2020, J. Cools

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